Live from Seoul

After over 24 hours of traveling, we made it here. We could’ve gotten here much sooner, but we decided to take the scenic route. On Thursday afternoon we both left work an hour early and I picked Julie up from her apartment, and we went to the Highway Oasis bus stop in Miyoshi and dropped off my car and caught a bus to Matsuyama, the biggest city on Shikoku and on the west coast of the island. We had dinner there and caught a bus to the ferry port, where we caught a massive overnight ferry to Kokura, in Kita-Kyushu (north Kyushu).

We took a train to Hakata/Fukuoka and caught a bus to the international ferry terminal there, where we caught the JR Beetle, a 3-hour hydrofoil ferry to Busan, South Korea. We very stupidly forgot we’d have to go through immigration, so we put off boarding while we waited for a large group of Korean students to go ahead of us, and we made it on just a couple of minutes before it took off. It was a really, really bumpy ride–I was able to knock myself out and tune the motion out, but Julie wasn’t so lucky. We were still both queasy in varying degrees when we got off the ship, though.

After getting to Busan, we managed–with our total lack of Korean knowledge (save what I’d written down and what was in Julie’s guidebook) to catch a taxi to the train station (taxis are cheap here, holy crap–it cost maybe $2 USD), where we hung out in a coffeeshop for a bit before catching the KTX up to Seoul. The KTX is a fairly new high-speed superexpress train system that’s essentially Korea’s shinkansen (the Japanese bullet train). It was a 3-hour ride, and we bought round-trip tickets for maybe $80 US, which is crazy, considering that a 3-hour roundtrip ticket on the shinkansen (Okayama to Tokyo, for example) costs over $300 USD.

It was raining when we arrived, so Julie bought an umbrella and we caught a taxi to our hostel, the Guesthouse Korea–with some difficulty, because it was a little tough to find, and we certainly couldn’t explain anything about how to get there. We finally made it, though–and the room was a bit of a surprise. I’ve never stayed in a hostel before–I stayed in a “backpacker’s hostel” in Tokyo which was actually just a really cheap but good-quality hotel–but our room was pretty run-down, with a really, really scary-looking bathroom. We both swore we’d look for a bathhouse and probably a different hotel in the morning, and we went to a local convenience store to find something to eat.

This morning, though, I think we’re feeling a bit differently. Our friend Sara and her friend are checking in here this afternoon, and originally we were going to wait to see how they felt about their room, but it’s really not that bad, and it’s in a good and convenient location–it’s kind of an adventure, as is traveling in a country where we have no familiarity with the language. It’s the first time for both of us–I’ve traveled abroad before, but I had at least a passing familiarity with the language in every other country I visited. We met a couple of other girls this morning, one from Colombia and one from Korea, both living in Kagoshima (Kyushu, southwest Japan), and they very kindly helped us find a pharmacy to get Julie some motion sickness medicine for the trip back–something we couldn’t have done on our own, since we couldn’t even read the signs to know what was a pharmacy and what wasn’t! It’s sort of taken us both back to our first few weeks in Japan back in 2005, and the same sort of disorientation–but at least everyone here speaks a little bit of English (even if it’s just “I’m sorry”) and I wrote down a few basic grammatical phrases from a Survival Korean website (as well as a ton of “please, please don’t put meat or fish in my food” phrases) that should come in handy.

We have some ideas of things we’d like to do–we’re shopping and sightseeing today, hopefully doing a vegetarian dinner theater tonight (at a place run by a former monk!), and doing a DMZ tour tomorrow afternoon. We also found a couple of “drama tours,” covering sites that various famous Korean dramas included, and there’s one for the huge series Winter Sonata, starring Bae-Yong Joon (a.k.a. Yon-sama), which Julie’s a big fan of (the film, not the actor!). I may go along with her, because it would show a lot of traditional Korean sights as well as a lot of natural beauty, but it’s a day-long tour and I may just take the guidebook and wander around Seoul for a day, since we really only have three full days here before we head back to Japan and Nagasaki.

Korea already feels different–the people are more brusque and not afraid to express themselves (we had a really grumpy clerk at the convenience store we went to last night), but they also will just start talking to you in Korean without a second thought, and not do a double-take and then back off because you’re a foreigner and therefore obviously can’t understand them. While it’s awkward to apologize and say we can’t understand, it’s also really refreshing that people aren’t so hesitant here–but of course, we’ve been here for less than a day so it’s not like I truly know what it’s like just yet. I was jokingly saying that maybe it’s halfway between Japanese and Chinese culture in some ways, and Julie, who’s been to China, thinks I’m right so far. We’ll see how it goes.


I did manage a couple of k-mail blog posts–it’s nice that they enable me to get a fair amount across like that. I was trying to keep a mental tally of things I wanted to note here as the weekend went on.

Some things that really struck me:

  • the massive amounts of plants, trees, flowers, and general greenery there, as compared to every other Japanese city I’ve visited
  • the very gregarious shopkeepers and the out-and-out aggressive taxi drivers (in their case, I believe the supply exceeds the demand in most cases; as I told Julie over k-mail, I really do enjoy being told I have the face of a movie star, but if I say I want to take the bus, then I want to take the bus! Arguing with me about it for 10 solid minutes won’t make me budge)
  • the subtle cultural differences present everywhere that made me realize this wasn’t “mainland” Japan, and how much Okinawan culture was influenced by China
  • mmmmm, tofu champloo and fried tacos…
  • gorgeous weather–there was only one day this weekend where it was sunny, but even otherwise, it was totally t-shirt weather the whole time, which was a very welcome change
  • I didn’t see nearly as many American/western tourists as I was expecting on Kokusai-dori and elsewhere–that is, until Tuesday morning, of all times
  • Kokusai-dori (the main drag in Naha) was touristy but in a charming way; I found myself spending time there every single day, wandering in and out of shops and through the covered streets, and I ate at least one meal there daily. I was tempted to turn on my mp3 player’s recorder just to grab a sample of the various sounds that jump out at you–the announcement from the huge TV screen on the western end of the street, the techno and rock and western music, people standing outside shops inviting people inside, random snippets of Okinawan sanshin music, different accents, sounds of cars, the Okinawa-style music played at the major pedestrian crosswalks…

Saturday: I just barely made my flight out of Takamatsu (lucky for me, you only have to be at the gate 10 minutes before departure for domestic flights in Japan). When I arrived in Naha, I caught the monorail from the airport to a stop near my hotel, which I discovered was in a very convenient location–20 minutes from the airport, 15 minutes walking from Kokusai-dori, 10 minutes walking from the bus depot. I checked in, changed into a t-shirt, and spent the afternoon and evening mainly in the Kokusai-dori area window-shopping.

Sunday: It was pouring in the morning, so I took my time leaving. I caught the ferry out to Shuri, a really famous castle complex and the home of the Ryukyu kingdom that had occupied the Okinawan islands a couple hundred years before. It was nice, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if it were sunny and if there weren’t hundreds of tourists and dozens of tour groups there as well. I took a wrong turn and inadvertently left the castle complex early and wasn’t able to reenter, so I wandered around the area for a while before heading back to my hotel, recharging, and then catching a bus to the neighboring town of Urasoe to check out the ruins of an ancient castle and tomb. For whatever reason, those captured my attention more than Shuri did–they just felt more real somehow. I caught a taxi back into Naha and had expensive but pretty good Indian food for dinner.

Monday: This was my History Day. I set out later than I meant to, but it was okay. This day was sunny, so I packed my flip-flops and towel with the intent of finding a beach to hang out on. I caught a bus south to the town of Itoman, and transferred to a second bus to visit the Himeyuri no To, a memorial and peace museum discussing a part of WWII that I’d never heard of before. I knew that Okinawa had been ravaged in WWII, but it’d been long enough that I was pretty vague on the details. The US landed in Okinawa with the intent of using it as a way to strike at “mainland Japan,” and Japan made the decision to wage a war of attrition on Okinawa to keep the US from reaching the mainland as long as possible–and in the process, countless tens of thousands of civilian lives were swept up in the war and consequently lost.

The story behind the Himeyuri no To involves over 200 high school girls (later known as Himeyuri) and their teachers who were summarily drafted to serve as assistant nurses in unbelievably horrendous conditions in makeshift hospitals in caves along the southern Okinawa coast. The caves were wet and unsanitary, and they had to deal with physical and emotional trauma from the injured Japanese soldiers, including such things as burying the dead and removing amputated limbs from the hospital area. They never had a chance to rest and could never leave the caves due to the constant bombardment outside. But suddenly, they were all released from this duty, and dozens were killed trying to find shelter, with more committing suicide to evade being captured by the Americans, who they were taught to believe were barbarians. Out of the over 200 girls, 14 survived the war.

The museum provided a very interesting look at the evolution of the girls’ schools leading up to the war–how their curriculum changed from encouraging analytical and independent thought to becoming more saturated with war propaganda and building up all Japan’s children to join in the cause wholeheartedly, how they were only allowed to speak true Japanese and not the Okinawan dialect or English (the enemy’s language) anymore, and how even their uniforms changed to become more military-like. There were even laws in place preventing this sort of draft of people this young, but they were completely ignored, and the students did their duty wholeheartedly, as loyal Japanese, despite how brutal and terrible it was. After they were released, the Americans had no way to tell the Japanese soldiers from the civilians, and many of them died in the crossfire.

What really struck me about the museum was how un-Japanese it felt. It didn’t provide a pat and happy ending. It presented the injustices done by both the Japanese and the Allied sides in the war, without favoring either–but in some ways, Okinawa seems to consider itself separate from Japan, with good reason. However, it did end with an optimistic exhibit of the partnerships it had established with other similar WWII-era museums and exhibits striving to educate and establish peace. This museum had a very strong impact on me, and its message was made loud and clear.

From there, I wanted to visit the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park, but the next bus didn’t come for almost 2 hours, so I walked the 3-4 kilometers in between. The museum was closed, but the grounds themselves were very striking, with exhibits of the names of all the people who died in the seige at Okinawa. There was also the Cornerstone of Peace, in a pavilion overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I had another hour to wait there for the next bus, but this time I did wait (and had to shake off several insistent taxi drivers).

Next, I went to visit Cape Kyan and some castle ruins there. The grounds out there made me think I was in the countryside of a very sleepy Caribbean town–it felt nothing like Japan as I knew it. It also all felt very weary, with good reason–Cape Kyan was an area with cliffs where thousands of people jumped to their deaths to avoid the onslaught of the war, and not too far away was a memorial for 35,000 unknown Okinawan civilians who had died on that beach.

It was late enough in the day, though, that I didn’t actually make it out to the cape or the memorial (Konpaku-no-to). I did, however, find a deserted and very mossy inlet beach that I thought was beautiful in its solitude, and I found the nearby castle ruins of Gushikawa-jo, a crumbling rock structure with a truly spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. I spent a while out there and then made it to the bus stop in time to catch a bus back to Itoman, where I caught one ten minutes later back to Naha.

Tuesday: I checked out of my hotel (did I mention that I’d been giving free eikaiwas to this adorable guy working behind the counter who was really eager to practice his English with me? It was a shame to have to say goodbye to him), left my bags at the counter, and went omiyage-shopping at Kokusai-dori, where I found the perfect birthday gift for my dad, and where I saw more foreigners than I’d seen in the previous three days combined (average age: 50 years old).

I ate at the taco place recommended in Lonely Planet and ran into two young-ish guys there, who were really excited to meet another foreigner their age. It turns out they work for a small eikaiwa in the Kansai region (Osaka/Kobe), and obviously they were hoping to make some gaijin friends while in Naha because they looked disappointed when I said I was flying out that afternoon. They left, then I ate and left and finished shopping and got my suitcase from the hotel and got to the airport early enough to secure a seat all the way up front. The weather in Takamatsu was chillier and rainy, but I got home around 5:30 or 6 PM and spent my evening checking in with Julie about Korea, packing and doing laundry, and catching up on all the online stuff I’d missed (including the Battlestar Galactica season finale–holy crap, man).

And now, I’m back at work, in jeans, which is nice. I just requested an hour of vacation for this afternoon, because I haven’t finished packing yet and I need to get Julie as soon as possible. I’ll try to write from Korea so I don’t inundate you all with a post twice as long as this one!

I saw the famous Shuri Castle and gate today, but I was more impressed by these small, tucked-away tomb ruins dating 500-800 years old in neighboring Urasoe. I tend to favor ruins over obvious restorations, I think. I’m having a quick pasta dinner, then hopefully seeing An Inconvenient Truth (titled A Global Warning here) and catching live Okinawa-style sanshin music. Tomorrow I’m going south to see historical wartime relics/ruins and hopefully the beach.

On the monorail from Naha Airport to downtown. I just saw a sign reading, “Bienvenidos a Okinawa.” It’s been a while since I’ve seen any Spanish signage. There are military planes next to the commercial ones and the architecture already seems different. It’s quite warm and humid. I’m going to check in, put on a t-shirt, and go exploring.

I’m so glad I’m here

The teacher I worked regularly with at my double-length school, formerly my next-door-neighbor before I switched apartments and a really cool and laid-back man who I really enjoyed working with and who very clearly loves his job, just came by my apartment with one of those large sturdy signing cards, bearing messages from every teacher and student in the tiny school, as well as a copy of the photograph of me with the student body. It’s completely in handwritten Japanese, and I can’t make out some of the kanji, but I still understand the general meaning and intent. I’m simultaneously smiling and crying right now. I’ll really miss that school, those students, and those teachers so dearly come April. I’m missing them right now.

Wonderful day, horrible evening

The cold and miserable weather we’ve been having daily through March finally let up yesterday, on the national midweek holiday we all got off from work, so about 20 of us met up at Bamboo Park in Yamakawa, either to play sports (mainly ultimate frisbee, though a football, rugby ball, and softball and catcher’s mitt also turned up) or to just enjoy the weather.

It was a fantastic day. The weather was just perfect, and it was a good group of people having a great time. Even the field was perfect–a bunch of us kicked off our shoes and socks and ran around barefoot, because it was grassy and dry and not at all muddy or prickly. I’ve been wanting to run around outside for a long time now, especially since the last time I played frisbee was last summer, but the weather’s been miserable enough to compulse me to spend as much time inside as possible all these months, and I can still throw and catch a disc as well as ever. Nate warned us that the sun here is stronger than it even is in the desert back in the US, but he said it in the context of providing sunscreen, which I just kind of brushed off because I don’t burn very easily.

A few of us got headaches by mid-afternoon. I figured I’d gotten mine because I didn’t really eat lunch properly–I had some nuts and water with me, and bummed some food and snacks off others till my stomach felt reasonably full, but evidently it wasn’t enough.

We went to an onsen afterwards–well, everyone but Bessie and I did, as we just catnapped on the tatami–and when everyone came out and I woke up, I felt really groggy and not with it at all. After that, we headed to the Sri Lankan restaurant in Yamakawa, where my headache would not go away, and something about the warm and stuffy air inside the restaurant, plus the lingering scent of curry in the air, made me feel truly awful in a way I hadn’t felt in a while–not since December, the day my sick and sleep-deprived self flew back to the US and passed out in the aisle of the plane.

I ducked out a bit early. I was dreading the 45-minute drive home, and with good reason–I did actually have to pull over several times because the motion of the car made me feel even worse, and I did eventually pull over to throw up, which I felt really embarrassed about, as it was in a convenience store parking lot not far from home, and I didn’t/couldn’t go in to alert them to and apologize for the mess I’d made. I got home by 9 PM and just went straight to bed.

I think it was just too much sun, plus not enough food during the day. I’d had plenty of water, though–my liter bottle and then some, and a lot of water at the restaurant, too. And it’s kind of good I got this out of the way before spending three or four days walking around in the sun in Okinawa! At any rate, I’m feeling great today (just really, really sore) and grateful for the concern of my friends last night, and just embarrassed about it. I know some of you read this, so thank you, guys. And have a great spring break if I don’t see you before then!

Pretty eventful week

A lot’s been going on–this has been the busiest week I’ve had in a while. Here are some general highlights:

  • I saw my third-years graduate. It was an emotional time, but I got some good photos of and with them. (All my graduation photos are up on my Flickr account, but any and all photos involving my students and schools are friends/family restricted.) I’m really going to miss them; recently I’ve realized how lucky I am to have such a good group of kids.
  • I broke it to my first-years that I’ll be gone in July, and all of them, even the quiet ones, were staring at me wide-eyed as I said it. I was just as close to them as I was to my third-years, and I’m really going to miss them as well. I have to break it to my second-years (a.k.a. the new third-years) and the incoming first-years pretty soon.
  • I attended two other elementary school graduation ceremonies. Those kids will all be my first-years at my junior high starting in April.
  • Kirsten, Genna, Gilly, and I took a roadtrip to Osaka Thursday night to see Muse in concert (9 hours roundtrip, of which I drove about 7). It was surreal–they’re one of my favorite groups and it was weird to realize that the same people rocking out on stage were the people who created this music I love so much. Matt Bellamy is an incredible multi-instrumentalist–he switched between three guitars and a piano during the night, sometimes in mid-song. It was a high-energy Japanese crowd with quite a few foreigners, and we met an ALT from Iwate-ken who hung out with us for the night.
  • One of my eikaiwa ladies brought me some homemade vegetable tenpura Friday that she’d made earlier that day, and it was the best tenpura I’ve ever had. She wants to set aside a time for her circle of eikaiwa friends (kind of like my surrogate mothers here) and me to make tenpura sometime in April.
  • The musical wrapped this weekend, at the gorgeous Odeon-za, the former kabuki theater in Wakimachi. Our last show was definitely not our strongest, but we had a lot of fun with it–we threw in a ton of really hilarious cameos and spoofs, a lot more than I remember us doing last year, and it was just a great high note on which to end. We had our traditional after-party at the Mino bungalows, though I didn’t spend the night this year, but I had a lot more fun than I did last year. Of the awards the crew gave out, I, Smitha “The Shark” Prasadh, received the “Best Transformer Master of Disguise” award (for my FOUR characters–a choir member, Asimo the robot, the Nose Extension Technician/primary Girl In Black Who Did Stuff Anonymously Onstage, and Monstroa the WhaleShark). I left at just the right time, before people started getting really drunk. It’s interesting what a big deal leaving the party was this year, and how much of a symbolic ending the party truly was–we really did become a cohesive cast, and I’ve become a lot closer to almost everyone.
  • Ellie‘s been visiting from Scotland for the past week, so she could see her third-years graduate. I finally saw her at the musical–it was very brief, but it was still great to see her again.
  • I’m trying desperately to pull something together for Golden Week that isn’t ridiculously expensive; right now I’m researching low-key culture/volcano tours in Indonesia (Merapi, either Krakatau or Bromo, and ancient Hindu temples–how can I say no to that?), which my parents aren’t happy about because it’s not the safest area for US citizens. I just want to make good use of that vacation time, but I’m really worried it’s too late.
  • However, I’m going to Okinawa next Saturday! I’ll be there for three nights, and a day after returning, Julie and I are making our way to meet (southie) Sara and her friend in South Korea for five days.

I’m really going to miss being able to dance during dusk in near-anonymity on train platforms to the music on my mp3 player, only to be stopped when the beam of the approaching train breaks through the evening’s shadow. It’s at that point that my innate self-consciousness reclaims a bit of control, though more often than not, particularly if I walk south and catch a train on the rarely-traveled local line, the conductor and the handful of passengers aren’t paying attention to me at all. It’s a small thrill I’ve come to enjoy after long walks, where I walk a long distance and then catch a train home.

Embarrassing myself in front of the entire school

The musical was fantastic this weekend–even though there were quite a few blunders during the (taped for cable TV) Ishii performance on Saturday night, the 400+ playbills we’d printed last week ran out very quickly over the course of the two days, and the whole performance became a lot more cohesive, and I think we’re all feeling the same closeness that naturally happens when you spend weekends with the same group of people all the time. (And some of the stress, too–there were a few tense moments, just due to the nature of what we were doing, but on the whole, I know I for one feel a lot closer to quite a few people in the cast.)

I had Sri Lankan for dinner last night on my way back, and stopped at the BookOff in Kamojima to pick up a few more discounted CDs–essentially, my 2-hour drive became a 3-hour one instead (did I also mention that I’d driven about 160 miles this weekend, with commuting to and from the venues both days?), so I was pretty tired last night. I set my alarm for my usual Monday time when I went to sleep, and went about my usual Monday routine, leaving my apartment at 8:45 due to my schedule being modified because of my early-morning elementary school class.

The only problem? That class finished last week, which essentially made me over 30 minutes late in coming to my junior high school.

And there was another problem: there was an awards ceremony this morning that I didn’t know about. I’m only at my junior high from Mondays through Wednesdays, and I didn’t check the schedule and my (quite busy) JTE forgot to tell me about it. I got to school, only to find only the secretary and groundskeeper lady in the teacher’s room, which could only mean one thing. I trekked out to the gym, silently muttering “oh crap oh crap oh crap,” and faced the Walk Of Shame–all the teachers (in suits and nice clothes) and a bunch of the students staring as I (in a fleece and plain shirt, my usual not-super-formal-but-enough-for-class slacks, and my brightly-colored striped socks) walked into the freezing gym ridiculously late. They also evidently hadn’t planned on my being there, or overlooked that I would be coming, because the teacher’s row only had enough chairs for the teachers present; one of the teachers immediately stood up and gave me his seat, which made me feel even more embarrassed.

All the teachers are attending the rehearsal now for tomorrow’s graduation ceremony–my JTE told me I could stay in here if I had work to do, but I think I’m going to head in there in a little bit to watch (as the kids file in, file out, sing, stand up, bow, and sit down, over and over again) and freeze myself in the unheated gym to share in the solidarity of the student body and faculty. I also just found out we have the post-graduation enkai tomorrow night that the third-year students’ parents are throwing for the teachers–but it’s at a yakiniku restaurant. (Yakiniku means “grilled meat.” Joy.) My JTE forgot to tell me about that until today, too, so now she’s having a teacher call the parents organizing it to have them try to arrange some vegetarian food for me.

This all makes me feel really lucky that I have such an understanding faculty at this school, though–I can just imagine some of my friends being in the same situation and having JTEs and other teachers treat them like crap for being late and not accepting any excuses or refuse to help them in any way. They’ve never once questioned my vegetarianism and they always remember to order me a completely vegetarian meal, though they do ask me about it curiously at enkais and lunchtime sometimes, and what kinds of foods I like to eat and stuff. My principal is also an extremely sweet man, and laughed when I explained what happened. That helped to take some of the edge off the burn of humiliation. Despite the awkwardness of not being able to be “one of the gang” and just not understanding what’s going on, I really have lucked out in many ways, and I’m going to go now to show my gratefulness by freezing my poor toes off in the gym.

Ookii desu ne…

I started my day off in a truly wonderful way. While running to meet Julie at the travel agency attached to the train station, I passed two elderly women walking in the opposite direction. One said to the other, “Sono hito, ookii desu ne, gaijin-san!

I slowed down and just stared at them, feeling completely taken aback and unsure what to say–they were both smiling at me, so I managed a smile and a hasty bow and kept on running, but the smile kind of twisted on my face once they were out of line-of-sight of my face. I could have stopped and corrected them (one, “big” means “fat” in western cultures, so please use “se ga takai” or “tall” from now on, and two, we tend to prefer “gaikokujin” over “gaijin”), but words completely failed me. I know that “ookii” (“big”) means “tall” in Japanese, but considering that I’ve lately been gaining weight and I’m living in the most weight-conscious country in the world, that hurt.

At least we scored a really nice discount on our ferry tickets between Fukuoka and Pusan, South Korea, though, because there’s a women’s discount if you travel during the week, and we have all our getting-there accommodations taken care of. Korea in three weeks! (And Okinawa in two!)

It’s now time for me to toss black and white clothes into a duffel bag and head out for this weekend’s musical performances. Today’s is going to be taped for cable TV, though it’s a channel very few of us will get, but they’re making a DVD of it for us, which is quite nice. The pressure’s on, though, because these and next week will all be highly-attended performances, so wish us luck!

A day of lasts

Before the entry, some surprising searches of note lately that have brought people here…

“tokushima burn’s supper”
“pinocchio tokushima”
“keitai is a way of life in japan”
“loose fundoshi boy” (ew…)
“people in japan who run half naked at a festival” (hah!)

There are also some more disgusting ones that I’ll refrain from spelling out.

Today was surprisingly emotional. I didn’t have much chance to dwell on what today would hold until I was thrown into it. I team-taught my last classes with this year’s third-years, who I’ve really grown fond of as a whole. The nerds, the popular kids, the jocks, the quiet ones, the loud ones–I love them all. This year has made me really aware of how full-circle I’ve come; when I was in junior high/middle school, I was the nerd, the one kid that was almost universally teased, made fun of, and looked down upon for being brainy and awkward by nearly everyone else in my grade. Now, I’m the cool, friendly one that all the kids generally seem to like. I can see myself in so many of these kids–there’s one girl in particular who I would simultaneously label as a clone of Mizuno Ami (she even has the short hair!) and as who I was when I was a middle school student.

After the first of the two classes ended, my speech contest girl gave a short speech (in Japanese when addressing my JTE and in English when addressing me) thanking us, and she specifically thanked me for coaching her when my JTE was in England this summer, and said that I always have a smile on my face and am friendly to everyone. I was trying so hard not to cry openly, and I knew that the kids could see it–their saigo no aisatsu was a lot warmer than the usual unenthusiastic monotone/blurted rush, and most of them were smiling.

After the second class, the boy speaking on behalf of the class got up and said, “Mister Smitha, thank you!” I mean, I know I’m taller than my JTE and that she always and without fail casts me as the male in any male-female example dialogue or roleplay we do, but…

I know I’m going to be bawling at their graduation ceremony next Tuesday. I didn’t shed a tear last year, but I’m going to miss these kids so much.

The other “last” was my last Double-Length Class of Doom. This is the school that I have to give up because of my huge schedule change in April/May, and because it makes more sense for Chalice to teach it since these kids will go to her junior high and not mine. As it always is with this sort of thing, I never realized how fond I really was of this school until the last few weeks, once I realized that I’d have to give it up. The teachers were truly regretful to see me go, and I nearly teared up as I left that school as well. I have a photo of me with the entire student body–all nine students, though I only teach six, but I’ve met all nine, since they had me teach all of them how to sing John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads” (a song which is really popular/heartfelt here).

By far the sweetest and most touching encounter I had at this school was with one of the three students I don’t teach–a girl, I think a first-grader. The teachers took the photo of me with the student body in the break between the two periods I teach, and it was that time when the first- and second-graders leave for the day. I was walking back from the staffroom to the classroom as the young ones were standing by the door near the staffroom, ready to head out, and I smiled and waved at them.

The girl stopped and asked me politely (in Japanese), “Is today your last day coming to this school?” I nodded and told her regretfully that it was, and she bowed and told me goodbye. She then paused, still gazing at me, and then said, her tone surprisingly serious but her face still warm, “Genki de.” Her tone combined with her expression made her seem as if she were fifteen years older and speaking to a close friend she was saying a long-term goodbye to. I was really surprised and touched, and immediately thanked her and wished her the same. Really, the only way I can describe how I felt at that moment, and in the moment afterwards as I walked the rest of the way down the hall, is kokoro ga ippai. I couldn’t stop smiling, and tears did come to my eyes–I don’t even know her name, but I definitely won’t forget her or that moment.